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July 27, 2015 3

Where to Eat in Chicago

By in American, Italian

Where to Eat in Chicago

There are many perks to being best friends with a worldly photographer who is passionate about food. Thomas not only has been coaching me in my photography skills for almost two years now, but with all the traveling and eating he does, he ends up being my food tour guide around the country. We’ve eaten together for over ten years and have similar palates so I never second guess his recommendations. He’s been my gastronomical guide in Houston, Los Angeles, New York, and now Chicago. He traveled to Chicago many times a year for one of his jobs and we dedicated our entire eating plan to his recommendations.


Portillo’s


http://www.portillos.com
Multiple locations with varying hours

I couldn’t leave Chicago without eating their hot dogs and Italian beef sandwiches. You can get both at Portillo’s where their cake shakes are also reputable. Chicago dog slingers notoriously shun ketchup. (Don’t tell anyone I dipped an end of my hot dog in ketchup.) The slices of Italian beef were so thin and moist, I was so happy I only ordered one as I could easily scarf down two and then be incapacitated.


Lou Malnati’s

Photo by Thomas

http://www.loumalnatis.com
Multiple locations with varying hours

Another must-eat in Chicago is deep-dish pizza. A well-known deep-dish pizza establishment in Chicago is Lou Malnati. This is where we had a family style dinner with our friends in Chicago before heading out to Taylor Swift’s concert. (See how I casually worked in the reason why I went to Chicago?) Our table of seven overstuffed ourselves on two pizzas. They were so good it hard to exert self-control. I was glad I opted for a forgiving dress to wear to the concert.


Garrett’s


http://www.garrettpopcorn.com
Multiple locations with varying hours

Every time my family or workplaces received the big tins of popcorn that had the butter, caramel, and cheese popcorns, I would make mix bowls of the cheese and caramel popcorns. Onlookers would narrow their eyes at me for doing so, and I always felt a little odd for it. Thank you Garrett for validating me! I didn’t know “mix” for them meant the same thing! At Garrett’s you can buy either caramel popcorn, butter popcorn, cheddar popcorn, or mixed which translates to a mix of cheddar and caramel. I’ve always enjoyed my sweet with a little savory so I highly recommend just getting the mix. I bought a bag of the cheddar and my girlfriend bought a bag of caramel and we mixed it. (She has a bigger sweet tooth than I do).

They make their popcorn fresh daily and it’s best to consume right away as it gets stale by the next day. Though the caramel lasts longer because of the sugar coating! Be wary of subsequent buttery cheese fingers when consuming.

If you miss out, there’s a Garrett’s at the O’Hare Airport and you can also order online. I’m assuming they seal it better to ship if you want to buy online.

I forgot to take a photo of my popcorn and was tempted to just embed this photo.


Xoco


449 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654
http://rickbayless.com/restaurants/xoco/
Open: Tuesday–Thursday 8a – 9p, Friday & Saturday 8a – 10p
Closed: Sunday & Monday

This Rick Bayless restaurant was our first stop during our short weekend trip to Chicago and it set the tone for a weekend of amazing eating. Known for their sandwiches, we all ordered sandwiches. I ordered the Pepito (braised short rib, caramelized onion, artisan Jack cheese, black beans, pickled jalapeños, added avocado; $12, $13 with added avocado) and split their famous Ahogada (golden pork carnitas, black beans, tomato-arbol chile broth, pickled onions; $11) with my roommate. If you have an eating buddy, I recommend ordering two different sandwiches as they come cut, making it easy to share. If it’s just you, get the Ahogada, the dipping broth is amazing. I also sampled their Baja Chicken sandwich, another solid choice.

For dessert we tried their renown Mexican drinking hot chocolate, so thick it’s like a chocolate sauce, perfect for dipping the churros. We also split the flan which was topped with spicy bacon caramel popcorn. Not one bite of our meal was mediocre.

If you missed out on fitting Xoco into your itinerary, you can also get some of the same sandwiches at Tortas Frontera at O’Hare airport.


Bongo Room



http://thebongoroom.com
Multiple locations with varying hours

For brunch, try Bongo Room. I split a bastardized version of the Vegetarian Croissant Sandwich (we added bacon) and the White Chocolate Pretzel Pancakes. Those pancakes arrived doused in a white chocolate sauce and the pretzels were in the pancake batter giving it a nice salty crunch. I’m typically not a pancake kind of person but kept coming back to the pancakes, strategically aiming for bites with pretzel.

Note the location we chose (1152 S Wabash Ave) is the only location that does not serve alcohol.


Avec


615 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60661
http://avecrestaurant.com
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11:30a-2p
Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 3:30p-12a; Friday and Saturday 3:30p-1a
Sunday brunch: 10am-2pm

Back in Texas and on the way home from the airport, I asked the girls I traveled with what their favorite bite was. They both said the chorizo stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($14) from Avec. My favorite bite was also from Avec, the squid ink pasta with fennel, dill, and sardines ($18). I KNOW. Talk about range. We also ate the burrata pizza with charred eggplant, cherry tomato confit, basil and calabrian chili honey ($18) and the butcher’s steak ($18). A couple of notes: they do not take reservations and you can easily wait two hours. Some people have strong opinions about long waits but I am rarely turned off by them so long as I’m in good company.


Purple Pig

Photo by Thomas

500 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611
http://thepurplepigchicago.com
Open: Sunday – Thursday 11:30a-12a Friday & Saturday 11:30a-2a

This was the only restaurant we had on our list but didn’t make. We underestimated the amount of time we needed to eat at Avec and missed our planned second dinner at Purple Pig. I couldn’t help but include this place in this round up though because look at that photo of the turkey leg. I will most definitely be back to Chicago and next time I’ll make it here!


Been to Chicago? What would you add to this list?

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July 17, 2015 2

The Hollow Brasserie in Georgetown, Texas

By in American, Austin, French

708 S Austin Ave
Georgetown, TX 78626
(512) 868-3300
http://thehollowbrasserie.com

Last month I was one of the lucky guests invited to an intimate six-course dining experience at The Hollow Brasserie in Georgetown, Texas, hosted by Chef Jacob and his wife Lynda. I want to highlight my favorite entrees and also help them spread the word of their good work. Their menu changes often and they also serve brunch. If you live in North Austin or want to spend a day exploring neighboring towns, I suggest checking out The Hollow. Come early so you can explore the neighboring shops that mostly have early closing times.

hollow-7
Scallop escabeche, foraged and pressed verges, melons, sorrel, long bean, almond, olive oil, cucumber, grapefruit, mint, basil, thai chili, preserved lemon

Those Thai chilis had a strong kick to them but all the other flavors provided a cooling and balanced counter to the heat. This was a beautiful and light start to our meal.

The Hollow in Georgetown, Texas
Duck mousse creme caramel, pickled cucumber, peaches, mustard, pistou

I noticed as I dine with my friends through the years, pâté is kind of a polarizing food. You either love or hate it. I never tire of pâtés and enjoyed the unique pairings with the pickled cucumber and peaches.

The Hollow in Georgetown, Texas
Quail, foie gras, smoked bacon, ancienne, apricots, sautenes, ras al hanout, saffron, wood, cilantro

That wood cream had us murmuring.

The Hollow in Georgetown, Texas
Pressed duck, corn risotto, tomato beurre fondue, duck livers cured in dried porcini

The tomato beurre fondue and risotto gave the duck a comforting bath in which to nestle. I vaguely remember spooning every last drop.

The Hollow in Georgetown, Texas

We finished our meal with a decadent and creamy chocolate and blackberry cake. The Hollow left a strong impression with their execution of entrees and their passionate approach to running their restaurant. As our dinner conversation meandered, we discussed how the food community in Georgetown still has a lot of exciting growth ahead of them. The Hollow is the only French influenced brasserie in the area. Nestled in a quaint downtown square and being a restaurant so committed to forage and locally source their ingredients, I can see the importance of having a restaurant like The Hollow in Georgetown.

July 1, 2015 7

Bun Belly Egg Noodle at Bun Belly

By in Asian, Austin

5001 Airport Blvd
Austin, TX 78751
(512) 358-4101
http://bunbellyaustin.com

My dear friend Michelle, who blogs at Foodie is the New Forty and I try to meet twice or thrice a month to have dinner and to blog. The formula for our blogging dates includes picking a casual place for dinner and then migrating to a coffee shop to work on our laptops. Our significant others are welcomed to join for either or both parts of the night. Sugarface hadn’t been able to join us for the last few months so our last blogging date was especially nice when he joined us for the first time in a while.

What I love about our foursome is how easily it is dissolve into unrestrained laughs and how uncanny our commonalities feel, which coincidentally was represented by what we ordered when we tried out Bun Belly a few weeks ago. We each ordered the Bun Belly Egg Noodle bowl because we all wanted pork belly and noodles. We split the Salt and Pepper Shrimp and then all tucked into our own bowls of noodles and pork belly. Pork belly at Bun Belly to go with our belly laughs.

We very much liked our experience at Bun Belly and I’m going to have to remember to suggest it again so that we can try more of their contemporary Vietnamese menu. I see that they have Vietnamese crepes which I had promised to make for Michelle and Chris and have yet to make good on my promise!

Bun Belly
Salt and Pepper Shrimp; beer-battered, onion, garlic, jalapeño, seasonal greens, and lime dipping sauce; $14

Bun Belly
Bun Belly Egg Noodle; Pork belly, bok choy, over easy egg, beef broth on the side; $11

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June 17, 2015 8

Lunch in the Life: New India

By in Austin, Indian

New India

2304 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 445-9727
http://newindia.us

I like asking first generation immigrants where they go to eat when they’re homesick for their mother countries. I’m curious about their opinions on authenticity in their cuisine in the states. So when I asked my coworker Himanshu where he goes to eat when he’s homesick for his mom’s cooking, he without pausing told me New India. He said he’s from Maharashtra, India and New India has authentic Maharashtrian food. I’ve gone before for their lunch Thali platter offerings but wanted to try what Himanshu liked most. So we ordered his favorites when we met up for a collaboration over lunch.

New India
Koliwada Shrimp; prawns marinated in fisherman style spices & grilled; $9

This prawn appetizer was exquisitely spicy and perfectly cooked. I felt myself grow flush with each bite. You can adjust your spice preference with most of their offerings from mild to “Desi hot”. The flavors were so tantalizing that I didn’t bother with the mint sauce.

New India
Left: Chicken Malvani Roasted Coconut Curry; fresh roasted coconut cooked with onions, ginger, garlic, chilies & ci lantro; $13.
Right: Kheema Masala (Ground Lamb); ground lamb cooked with fresh ginger, onions, tomatoes, & whole spice; $14

Himanshu warned me that these two dishes are so authentic he’s not sure an American palate would enjoy it if it has been seasoned by Americanized Indian food. His warnings were in vain because I loved every bite.

New India

What I enjoyed about the curries at New India is I don’t feel so guilty as they use much less cream in general in comparison to the average Indian restaurant and they’re still comforting in texture and flavors. Himanshu and I traded notes on Indian places around town and we both appreciated that New India doesn’t have us smelling like Indian cuisine when we leave. I’m glad Himanshu reminded me of its existence. Our work place is not so far from New India so I’m going to keep this place on my radar for days I forget to pack a lunch to work!


Question: Where do you go to eat when you’re homesick for mom’s cooking?

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June 1, 2015 6

Los Angeles: Porto’s Potato Balls

By in Los Angeles

Portos Bakery & Cafe
8233 Firestone Blvd, Downey, CA 90241
(Check website for various locations around Los Angeles)
(562) 862-8888
http://www.portosbakery.com/

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I took a trip to Zion National Park with a couple of long distance girlfriends. We try to take a trip together and reunite once a year. For two years now we had a formula. We fly to LAX and then drive 7-8 hours to a national park, spend 2-3 days there, and then drive back to LA to fly home. This year before heading to the airport, we had breakfast at Porto’s, a Cuban bakery and cafe. My friend Thomas, a former Los Angeles resident recommended this place. He tells me he orders the Potato Balls (a Porto’s trademark but they’re generally known as papas rellenas) and brings them back to Texas every time he travels to LA.

Portos Bakery & Cafe

Their bakery case is impressive. Cakes, sweet and savory empanadas, croissants, muffins, danishes, puffs, and on and on. It’s overwhelming in the best way.

Portos Bakery & Cafe

It was breakfast and I lean savory so I ordered a bacon omelet croissant sandwich. It ended up being even more indulgent and heavier than listed on the menu. There’s a layer of crispy potato sticks, tomatoes, and a slathering of mayonnaise. I finished that whole dang thing.

Portos Bakery & Cafe

I also ordered a box of Potato Balls and a couple of meat pies to take back to enjoy with Sugarface.

Portos Bakery & Cafe

And because I am such a sweet girlfriend, I assured quality of the balls before making it back home. Man, the meat pies were good but I’d come back to Porto’s every time I’m in the area for these balls. In case you can’t tell from the photo, they’re fried mashed potato balls stuffed with seasoned ground beef. They’re perfect. Sugarface heated them up the next day and texted me. “I love delicious balls.” So he approves too.

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May 21, 2015 5

Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon

By in American

Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon

897 Zion Park Blvd
Springdale, UT 84767
(435) 772-0115
http://wildcatwillies.com

I just came back from a trip to Zion National Park. I blogged about the trip on my personal blog and I mentioned how surprised I was to be impressed by a meatloaf. If there was a list of unsexy but comforting foods, I think meatloaf would make top ten. One of my travel companions told me she didn’t get the appeal of meatloaf. And though I’ve made and consumed meatloaf, I never thought I’d write about it. Yet here I am. About to tell you about the best meatloaf I’ve ever had.

I didn’t expect much of a culinary experience when visiting Zion National Park. I went for the park and for the bonding with my friends. I trusted my server but again didn’t expect to be blown away by the wild game meatloaf. What makes it special? Could be the bison and elk ground up with beef. Could be that it’s bacon wrapped. And or it’s smothered by a Guinness gravy.

Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon

Ashley who wasn’t into meatloaf took a bite. And then later took another bite off my plate. “This is the first meatloaf where I didn’t think it was just a loaf of meat.” So if ever you go to Zion National Park (which you should), I strongly urge you to go to Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon and order the meatloaf.

Wildcat Willies Ranch Grill & Saloon

We came back the next morning. I ordered one of their late riser’s breakfasts (entrees that are served after 11 am). The stuffed (with sausage) biscuits and gravy. It was good but the sausage was hardly a substantial sliver. I still very happily loaded on carbs before our first hike.

That meatloaf though.

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May 12, 2015 4

Last Supper at La Condesa

By in Austin, Mexican

La Condesa

400 W 2nd St
Ste A
Austin, TX 78701
(512) 499-0300
http://lacondesa.com

I have a friend very dear to me. We met on Youtube five years ago and have maintained a close friendship despite living in different cities and sometimes different states. The last two months, Treavor has been a resident of Austin and for the first time in our friendship, we were able to casually call on each other with hardly any notice. It has been splendid. We have had short notice dinners, planned home-cooked meals, two emergency ice cream dates, and a short notice stand up comedy show. His extended stay in Austin is coming to an end as he is embarking on an international tour. Last night we had our last supper until the next time his nomadic self finds himself in Austin again. I’m going to miss him!

La Condesa

It’s been some years since I’ve last been to La Condesa but I do remember it being a great place for solid modern Mexican fare. Also, their cocktails were intricate and memorable. I was driving last night so I skipped the alcohol.

La Condesa

We ordered a flight of salsa ($5), the pescado tacos (griddled Texas redfish, cabbage, chipotle mayo, pico de gallo, salsa moronity; $12), and the pollo rostizado tacos (rotisserie chicken, chile rub, salsa verde, cilantro; $9). They were delightful and the flight of salsas proved to be handy as the fish tacos needed a bit more salsa to balance out the cabbage.

I’ve been working really hard on portion control and felt this was just perfect amount of food. (I also had a late lunch and this was an early dinner). My dining companion was still a little hungry and I’ve never known him to skip on dessert. And well, I’m always a team player when it comes to sharing food.

La Condesa

So we shared the Horguera (toasted marshmallow semifreddo, milk chocolate, graham, funnel pollen, strawberry-agua dulce red shiso sorbet, $9). The toasted marshmallow semifreddo had the texture of a creamy cheesecake. Divine! We even influenced nearby diners to order it.

Alas, good meals just like extended stays eventually come to an end. Cheers to next time!
La Condesa

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May 5, 2015 5

Launderette

By in American, Austin

 

Launderette

Enjoy some sparkly beverages while you wait!

 

2115 Holly St
Austin, TX 78702
http://launderetteaustin.com

I have a group of lady friends whom I’ve met through our passion for food and food writing and have since cultivated rich friendships with them. We try to meet every month or two.  However, the five of us have such busy lives and are at various stages of life that it means sometimes we go too long before we can find a date that works for all of us. The last time we managed to all be free at the same time was in August when we caught up over pizza.

 

Launderette

Reservations only for parties of eight or larger

 

We finally got it together in 2015 and met up to try the newly opened Launderette. It was such a fantastic meal and we gossiped over a good portion of their menu. We all agreed that everything we tasted was impeccable with very mild disagreements on favorites. For instance, everyone really liked the caramelized endives but I had a hard time processing it. Is it a candy? A vegetable?  I also quite enjoyed  the chicken liver pâté but the girls felt it was a tad heavy.  Michelle and I both thought the Brick Chicken was our favorites. Funny for both of us because we rarely order chicken when we’re out, but it was so moist and delectable, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Not pictured but also devoured were excellent fries, an apple pie, and the famous ice cream sandwiches. Everyone loved the ice cream sandwiches and they were popular in my instagram newsfeed, but I much preferred the apple pie and I don’t even like apple pies!

Overall, we agreed that it was superb dining experience. From the ambiance, the service, the fashionable people watching, and the price. We ate like royalty and expected to break the bank but were quite relieved when we got the bill!

My take on must orders: Brick Chicken, Charred Octopus, Soft Egg Toast, Chicken Liver Pâté

 

Launderette

Potato Chips and pimento cheese, $6

 

Launderette

Fried oysters, jalapeno, lemon, coriander dressing; $8

 

Launderette

Chicken liver pâté, huckleberry preserves, mini brioche; $8

 

Launderette

Brick Chicken, sauce aligot, braised Swiss chard; $18

 

Launderette

Red Snapper crudo, dashi, lemon, oregano; $14

 

Launderette

Crab toast, fennel aioli, avocado, radish top-mint vinaigrette, semolina bread; $9

 

Launderette

Caramelized endive, bleu cheese, thyme; $9

 

Launderette

Grilled broccolini, romesco, fresno, almonds; $9

 

Launderette

Charred octopus, upland cress, garlic aioli, beluga lentils, avocado; $18

 

Launderette

Soft egg toast, asparagus, taleggio, truffle vinaigrette, bottarga, focaccia; $9

 

Fellow diners and beautiful souls:
Shelley
Foodie is the New Forty
Sushi in the ATX
Julieboolietran

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April 20, 2015 3

Recap of Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala

By in Food Event

A few weeks ago, I was an invited guest at Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala, an event whose funds will support a newly created emergency medical fund for local, independent farmers. The fund is dedicated to helping farmers in the greater Austin area with medical emergencies that may prevent them from maintaining their farms and thus their livelihoods. The evening raised over $10,000!

Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala

The gala was hosted at the Austonian and the farm-to-table dinner was prepared by Chef Erik R. Zamora and provided by the following Texan farms:

Farmhouse Delivery – Austin, TX
Windy Meadows Family Farm – Schertz, TX
Loncito’s Lamb – Dinero, TX
Oak Hill Farm – Poteet, TX
Miguel Ortiz Farm – Mission, TX
Cooper Farm – Fairfield, TX
Village Farm – Marfa, TX
Labranza Farm- Buda, TX
Animal Farm – Cat Springs, TX

Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala

Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala

farmgrass4

It was a happy surprise to run into my friends, the kindhearted and beautiful Melody of Gourmet Fury and Jane of A Taste of Koko. We were the only ones with the audacity to dip our toes into the pool while in cocktail dresses.

Farmgrass Fundraiser VIP Gala

The next big fundraising event supporting this cause is Farmgrass Fest, a bluegrass concert at the Simmons Farm in Niederwald, TX on May 3rd. Tickets are $20 dollars from their website, $25 at the door. The bluegrass lineup includes The Gravy Brothers + Special Guests, Whiskey Shivers, The Lost Pines, Brennen Leigh & Noel McKay’s High Plains Jamboree, and Fog & Bone.

April 13, 2015 8

Wood-Burnt Serving Board DIY Party

By in Entertaining

triscuit9

I find rainy day activities can be so good for the soul. Especially if it’s a novel activity with friends and food is involved. I spent my rainy Saturday with Anita, Amy, Kathy and Sarah dabbling in wood burning. Anita hosted a unique craft party sponsored by Brit&Co and Triscuit and we were her lucky guests.

Brit & Co. have wonderful craft kits you can purchase from their site. Their wood-burning standard kits have a wood-burning pen with four tips, a wood cheese board and a practice board. We had a lot of fun practicing with and testing out each of the four tips.

Wood Burnt Serving Board

I love Anita’s honeycomb design. She cut out a paper hexagon and traced it with a pencil on to her board. We all agreed the straight-edge tip was the easiest tip to use for lines.

Wood Burnt Serving Board

I opted for a vine design for my cheeseboard. The leaf tip was a pleasure to use. I pressed and held and there was no anxiety about smooth movement.

Wood Burnt Serving Board

All of the finished boards were darling. A relief considering how nervous we all were handling wood-burning pens for the first time!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mentioned our snacks. We snacked on deliciously adorned Triscuit crackers. Anita and Amy both played with toppings. My two favorites were the roasted marshmallow and peanut butter dusted in chocolate flakes and chevre mixed with honey, smoked black pepper and organic thyme (June’s Joy from Pure Luck Cheeses) topped with blackberries.

There’s something both satisfying and empowering about crafting and creating. I quite enjoyed spending a quiet rainy Saturday afternoon working (and eating!) with my hands!

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